Amid a recent soar of COVID-19 cases soar in Michigan spurred on by the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant, the governor called on residents to avoid indoor dining at restaurants for two weeks to help mitigate the spread of the virus. As a result, some metro Detroit restaurants are voluntarily pausing indoor dining for a brief period.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has so far declined to reimpose stricter measures on restaurants and bars or ban indoor dining. Instead, she’s putting the onus on businesses and residents to voluntarily refrain from conducting or taking part in any activity that could lead to further outbreaks.
“Policy changes alone won’t reduce the spread,” Whitmer said in a press briefing this month. “But the recent rise in cases is a reminder that we are still in the tunnel. The only way out is forward and together,” adding that imposing stricter measures in the future isn’t “off the table.”
According to the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan faces a spike in COVID-19 cases that could be far worse than what it experienced last fall. That surge in Michigan led to a ban on indoor dining beginning in mid-November and ending on February 1 of this year. Restaurants and bars are currently allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, or accommodate up to 100 people. Health experts note the increase in cases across Michigan in the last month followed the easing of statewide COVID-19 restrictions on March 5, including an increase in indoor dining capacity and allowing in-person instruction and sports at high schools.
Following the governor’s remarks this month, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) issued a statement calling Whitmer’s recommendation to voluntarily pause indoor dining “misguided” and said it continues to scapegoat the “restaurant industry without proof or reliable data.”
“Restaurant operators have done an extraordinary job of maintaining a safe and sanitized environment for guests and employees alike since reopening in February and it shows in the data,” the association said in the statement. “While Michigan is experiencing an unfortunate surge that has fashioned nearly 1,000 new and ongoing COVID-19 outbreak investigations, an insignificant 0.3% of those investigations involved restaurant patrons.”
In February, the MRLA proposed a reopening plan which includes a set of guideposts for local and state officials to follow in order to reopen restaurants and bars using tiered capacity limits based on Michigan’s seven-day average positivity rate. The plan proposes that if the positivity rate is between 3 percent and 7 percent, restaurants and bars could reopen at 50-percent indoor capacity with no curfew. A positivity rate below 3 percent would allow indoor dining to resume with no capacity limits in place. In other words, the higher the positivity rate, the tighter the restrictions.
A 600-person survey conducted by the MRLA in March indicated 64 percent of respondents supported reopening restaurants at 100 percent capacity. A representative speaking on behalf of the MRLA told Eater at the time the association stands by its proposed reopening plan.
The MRLA didn’t respond to Eater requests for comment for more details on the respondents of the survey.
According to the Michigan COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, nearly 40 percent of the state’s residents have one dose of the vaccine. All Michigan residents 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine. Pfizer is authorized for use in those over 16 years, while Moderna and Johnson and Johnson are authorized for those 18 and older. About 12 percent of tests over the past week were returned positive for COVID, as of Saturday, compared to a high on April 6 of 17.9 percent
Eater is tracking the Detroit-area restaurants and bars voluntarily pausing indoor dining. Check back for updates.
Cultivate Coffee and Tap House in Ypsilanti temporarily closing indoor dining. Patio and garden seating available. Curbside takeout available.
The Rattlesnake Club has paused indoor dining until May 1. Meantime, carryout service is available from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
Know of a Detroit restaurant or bar voluntarily pausing indoor dining due to rising COVID-19 cases? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.